The latest novel by veteran science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer, Triggers is a tale that pits science against emotion. Coming off his highly acclaimed WWW trilogy, Sawyer portrays a world of the not-distant future where terrorism has struck at America several times since 9/11, and how the President is ready to take drastic measures to prevent it from happening again. Is Triggers yet another Sawyer masterpiece? Read on to find out.

Synopsis for Triggers:

On the eve of a secret military operation, an assassin’s bullet strikes President Seth Jerrison. He is rushed to the hospital, where surgeons struggle to save his life.

At the same hospital, researcher Dr. Ranjip Singh is experimenting with a device that can erase traumatic memories.

Then a terrorist bomb detonates. In the operating room, the president suffers cardiac arrest. He has a near-death experience-but the memories that flash through Jerrison’s mind are not his memories.

It quickly becomes clear that the electromagnetic pulse generated by the bomb amplified and scrambled Dr. Singh’s equipment, allowing a random group of people to access one another’s minds.

And now one of those people has access to the president’s memories- including classified information regarding the upcoming military mission, which, if revealed, could cost countless lives. But the task of determining who has switched memories with whom is a daunting one- particularly when some of the people involved have reason to lie…

Cover-triggersRobert J. Sawyer has always been an interesting author to read, because his science is so well-embedded into the novel, as to become part of the story itself. Triggers provides a few glimpses, but doesn’t shine like the rest of Sawyer’s work. Readers are slowly given a little more of the mystery, but the ultimate explanation of just what is going on falls fairly flat. After growing used to Sawyer’s staggering use of science in previous novels, Triggers feels like a freshman effort. Not that the science isn’t particularly interesting–intriguing, actually–the problem is that the science takes a back seat to a relatively shallow story that Sawyer never really lives up to.

Unfortunately, things don’t really improve when dealing with the characters. They’re mostly flat, unbelievable, and not all that engaging. There are a couple of memorable characters that fill up a good chunk of the latter half of the book, but by then it’s far too late. Even the dialogue isn’t entirely believable. Considering the plot takes place primarily in a hospital, readers would expect much more medical jargon than is used. Government jargon is also conspicuously absent. These aren’t necessarily flaws in themselves, as the writing is approachable by the average reader; but average isn’t typically who Sawyer draws. After amazing novels like Calculating God, Mindscan and Flashforward, just to name a few, Triggers feels like a weak effort.

Triggers continues alluding to “Counterpunch”, which is a top-secret mission the President has authorized. It’s clear it’s a huge operation, and one that the President will do anything to keep it a secret, but even the readers aren’t let in on the details until the very end of the novel. It’s a risky move by the author, and unfortunately doesn’t work. Counterpunch (not even a particularly good operation name), once revealed, is so far-fetched, it’s impossible to believe a President of the United States would even listen to an adviser present it, let alone actually condone it.

The end result of the novel is again intriguing, but can’t overcome the weakness of the rest of the book. In many ways, this doesn’t feel at all like a Robert J. Sawyer novel–it’s almost as if someone else wrote the book and stamped his name on it. After decades of magnificent books by Sawyer, Triggers can’t really live up to his name. Triggers is, however, a good book, and better than most average novels. But as a Robert J. Sawyer fan, it doesn’t at all live up to the expectations of this reader.

– Reviewed by Bradley K. Brown

Book Review: Triggers

time to read (approx.): 3 min